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Latter Day Saints hold annual commemoration in Carthage

Nauvoo Performing Missionaries at the commemoration on June 27, 2022. The old Carthage jail is in the background on the right.
Rich Egger
Nauvoo Performing Missionaries at the commemoration on June 27, 2022. The old Carthage jail is in the background on the right.

June 27 is a significant date for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for a couple reasons. Both are connected to western Illinois:

On June 27, 1844, an angry mob killed church founder Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum at the old Carthage jail. The Smiths were in jail after destroying the press of a Nauvoo newspaper that criticized Joseph Smith.

On June 27, 2002, the church dedicated the rebuilt Nauvoo temple.

The church marks the date with an annual commemoration held at the old jail site. This year’s program drew hundreds of people on a picture-perfect early summer evening. They gathered in the shade of the site’s tree canopy for music, speeches, and prayer.

Alan Gudmundson, President of the Nauvoo and British Pageants, said church members believe life goes on after this life, so marking the Smiths’ deaths is not meant to be a somber occasion.

“It’s sad because we’re going to miss the people that we’re no longer in contact with that way,” he said. “But you could kind of say they’ve graduated. So it’s not necessarily a sad occasion. It could be a celebration as well.”

Gudmundson said Joseph and Hyrum Smith were great saviors who finished their mission. He said he knows he will meet Joseph Smith some day and will thank him for the example he set.

The rebuilt temple and the jail site

Church members settled in Nauvoo in 1839 and were in the process of building a temple there when the Smiths died. The temple was partially built when church members left Illinois a couple years later. They eventually settled in Utah.

The church sold the site, and then a fire severely damaged the building in the late 1840s. A powerful tornado caused further damage a couple years later.

The church eventually re-acquired the site, and in 1999 church President Gordon Hinckley called for the Nauvoo temple to be rebuilt.

Craig Dalton, President of Illinois Historic Sites for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said, “That temple really stands as a memorial to the faith, the dedication, and sacrifice of the early members of the church.”

Dalton said the church bought the old jail site in Carthage in 1903 under the direction of Hyrum Smith’s son to stand as a memorial. It’s now known as the Historic Carthage Jail Visitor’s Center and takes up much of a city block.

Although some parts of the jail site have been restored, Dalton said the jail itself is original to the time of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

“The walls and much of the interior, including much of the flooring and doorways and doors, are original. They were there in 1844,” he said.

The Nauvoo and British Pageants

The outdoor shows were called off during the pandemic but return this summer from July 5 to July 30 on the Nauvoo riverfront. The Nauvoo Pageant will be performed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and the British Pageant will be performed Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The British Pageant is about the reformation in Europe, and the Nauvoo Pageant is the history of what happened in Nauvoo – the restoration of the church,” said Alan Gudmundson.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to. If you come, you will be uplifted (and) you will feel your faith grow.”

Admission is free. The shows begin at 8:30 each night and are preceded by games and activities of the 1840s beginning at 7:00 p.m.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.